A Development Agenda for Senior Leaders

This past week I had the pleasure of teaching a leadership program for a large bank.  The leaders in the program were terrific – they were bright, curious, engaged and motivated to learn (which is always a blessing in this business!).  One thing that struck me was how knowledgable they were about a) what’s going on in the world, b) the regulators and all of the related political issues, and c) their company and their industry.  I don’t often see this level of executive commitment to staying current on the world around you. In my experience, most senior executives (say, VP+) do a great job of staying up-to-date in their function – fewer are completely aware of the political, industry or marketplace issues impacting their company.  Which got me to thinking – there are at least 6 fundamental “training” subjects that companies ought to really consider sending EVERY senior leader through, to raise the level of awareness and alignment.  Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Company Values. First, there ought to be leader-led sessions that really drive alignment and support of the company’s values. Senior leaders need to live these every day. Don’t leave this to chance – cover things like ethics, compliance, values, etc. – drive home the accountability with those at the top on a regular basis.

The Organization. Senior leaders ought to know what every department in the company does – and why.       They ought to know their peers, and be able to translate what other leaders are doing for their teams.       I know some companies are really big, but c’mon, if you live in Marketing, Finance, HR, etc, do you really know what you need to know about Operations, Sales, or the lines of business? And vice-versa? A lot of executives I know don’t know their way around their own company.       This is easily fixed with some good internal awareness sessions. Hand out the org chart for starters, and start sharing information about who does what…

Industry & political context. Again, could most companies afford to raise the level of knowledge in their senior leadership ranks about the industry, competitors, regulatory conditions, etc.? I think so. Have the CEO or Chairman teach a ½ day seminar for 50 execs at a time; send all senior leaders through it over a period of a couple of months.       Repeat and refresh every 12-18 months.

Cultures & worldwide market shifts. This might only be necessary for global companies, but if you are doing business around the world, are all of your senior leaders plugged into what works and doesn’t work, how the shifting global business climate is (or will) impact your business, etc.?

Public speaking. Every senior leader needs to be able to speak in front of large groups. Get them all trained up and polished – then turn them loose on the organization to share their team’s story, etc.

Media training. All senior leaders should have some knowledge of how to deal with the press, or how to respond to requests to write or be interviewed about the company, etc. Might be combined with # 5, above.

It’s been my experience that formal “training” stops at about the VP level in most companies… it’s often said that senior leaders are too busy or won’t respond well to classroom learning. I think it’s time to bust that trend, and start sending the senior players through sessions like these – together.  Let’s build a stronger team with better networks and relationships, etc., in the process.  There’s no reason that senior leaders shouldn’t be incredibly well-rounded, connected, and knowledgable about the larger world.